EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the eighth of an 11-part series previewing the University of New Mexico’s 10 Mountain West Conference opponents, and its nonleague opponents. The order of MWC teams will publish daily in reverse order of the preseason media poll. To see list of all previews, CLICK HERE.
The San Diego State Aztecs of a season ago boasted reigning Mountain West Conference player of the year Jamaal Franklin, four-year starting sharpshooter Chase Tapley and key role player seniors James Rahon and DeShawn Stephens.
The Aztecs of next season have already locked up the best recruiting class in program history (and one of the best in MWC history, for that matter) with oral commitments from three top-100 rated recruits, including Zylan Cheatham who the New Mexico Lobos courted hard. They also will be able to play coveted Arizona transfer Angelo Chol after he sits out this season due to NCAA transfer rules.
But with one chapter closing and another promising one set to open a year from now, the Aztecs of the present are hardly content in calling this a season of transition.
“The good news for our standpoint is we’re going to be good, which speaks to who you have coming back,” veteran SDSU coach Steve Fisher said.
Bridging the gap between the Franklin/Tapley era and the highly-rated recruiting class of the future is an Aztecs team led by a player who won’t have ever played with the past or be a part of the future.
Josh Davis, a 6-foot-8 graduate transfer from Tulane who will play only this season for the Aztecs, is the primary reason Fisher thinks the season ahead holds such promise.
“Josh is capable of playing like players I like to have – all over the floor,” Fisher said. “Josh could guard a point guard. He’s got good feet. He competes hard. We’ll try to move Josh around offensively to take advantage of whoever is guarding him.”
Davis, who started his college hoops career at North Carolina State, averaged 17.6 points and 10.7 rebounds a game a season ago for the Green Wave. He led Conference USA in rebounding and offensive rebounding (4.1 per game).
“He’s not a newcomer,” Fisher said. “He’s mature, he’s experienced. He’s been successful at a high level of Division I ball. He will be an instant positive help to us without question.”
Davis’ versatility, Fisher hopes, allows for a smoother transition into the starting lineup for 6-9 sophomore shot blocking post Skylar Spencer. If that happens, and Spencer develops his thus-far limited offensive game, the Aztecs front court will be strong, especially when you throw in 6-7 returning starter J.J. O’Brien. He shot nearly 53 percent from the field last year and averaged 11 points, 9.5 rebounds in two regular season games against UNM last year (he had 0 and 0 despite starting in the MWC Tournament semifinal loss to the Lobos).
The backcourt could be strong, too, if Xavier Thames stays healthy at point guard after back injuries slowed him in 2012-13, and if 6-8 sophomore Winston Shepard can show more consistency in the lineup.